Friday, January 4

Top 20 Indie Retro Games on Nintendo Switch



[Last Updated: 4/19/20] Retro games are near and dear to my heart because they’re generally either remasters or reinventions of classic titles or even modern games with sensibilities and style that fit that time. For me they’re a sort of portal to the past and while generally this sort of title wouldn’t be a great mainstream-friendly option for major publishers they’re perfect for indie developers and publishers. The following is a list of titles that scratch that retro itch the best on the platform.

Horizon Chase Turbo - Oh, to go back to the arcades, hearing the sound of quarters being dispensed from the bill changer, and diving into some classic gaming fun. Horizon Chase Turbo is a love letter to arcade racing greats like OutRun (a personal favorite) but it delivers so much more than that. With its smart pick-ups on the tracks, some great hidden unlocked cars, and more content than I ever would have imagined it's not a nostalgia cash-in, it's a celebration of classic arcade racing that will have you entertained and challenged for many hours if you want to find it all. One of my Top 10 Indie Games of 2018, this is a retro racing gem!


Miles & Kilo - While sharing quite a bit of DNA with last year's cute retro runner Kid Tripp, Miles & Kilo really refined and nailed things down to produce a satisfying experience worthy of inclusion on this list. Cute, challenging, and well-paced the alternating between the more traditional platforming when playing as Miles and the then it becoming a runner when Kilo is pulling him along keeps things fresh and fun throughout its relatively modest runtime.


Killer Queen Black - After having heard so much about this killer multiplayer arcade title I was interested to see what the fuss was all about. While the core of the game is ultimately reliant on playing with as many as 7 other people (4 to a side) in this case the developers have gone the extra mile to ensure it can be played across platforms so availability shouldn’t be as much of an issue as we sometimes see with Switch-exclusive multiplayer titles. One note is that there’s definitely a learning curve, and thankfully there are a multitude of offline tutorials that try to break everything down from the multiple paths to victory, to what roles people can play, to simply learning how to follow what’s going on since things tend to get hectic. While it may feel a bit on the simpler side, depending on your taste, this is a game that just about anyone should be able to pick up and get in to and it absolutely offers up a both a co-op and competitive multiplayer experience that nothing out there can rival.


Star Wars Pinball - If you’re either a massive Star Wars or pinball fan you can stop reading the review now and just buy this… rest assured, they’ve got you covered. Falling into the category of maximum, bordering on preposterous, effort, Star Wars Pinball isn’t just a few random tables. It’s an outright collection right out of the gate and represents an amazing value with 19 tables spanning the movies (including the more recent one-shots, for better or worse), TV shows (though, sadly, no Holiday Special), and even popular characters. Rather than phoning it in with relatively generic table layouts and throwing in sound bites to accentuate the action the folks behind the game have made a real investment in trying to imbue each table with unique character, many of them taking full advantage of the virtual nature of the game to concoct tables that wouldn’t be practical (or even possible) in a physical form. That does likely mean that not everyone will love every table but at the same time I applaud the effort and it really does make the depth of the total package remarkable. Throw in a Career mode that tries to include some elements of variety with objectives and challenges to complete and this is a great example of a game package swinging for the fences to deliver the full value of its price of admission.


Pinball FX3 - Since the base game hit the eShop, the periodic release of new table packs has kept this retro gaming engine very relevant ever since. In particular, the acquisition of the rights to produce tables based on the classic pinballs from Williams should make every retro gaming fan very happy. Already having released 2 packs from that agreement, as well as a few notable original packs of their own, Pinball FX3 will likely handily stay on yearly lists for quite some time.


Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King - Perhaps a little less gaining inspiration from the classic top-down Zelda titles like Link to the Past than copying it outright, Blossom Tales is an excellent game to help hold you over until the Virtual Console arrives. Cleverly playing out as a grandfather tells his granddaughters a story about a brave hero, Lilly, the focus is on taking most of the classic Zelda weaponry and then adding some more unique items of its own if you're willing to search them out. Thoroughly satisfying for the price of admission, Blossom Tales plays like a "lost" Nintendo title.


Marble It Up! - I'm a massive fan of the arcade classic Marble Madness as well as a fan of Sega's Monkey Ball games so Marble It Up! was a lot of fun to check out this year. While it may not have loads of content the degree of challenge will probably keep less hardcore gamers from conquering it all too quickly. Throw in some diabolical hidden secrets that take some serious work to obtain and it's a very unusual type of game that controls well and is a lot of fun to play.


Super Crush KO - Early in the Switch lifespan, when the pickings were sometimes a bit more thin, there were some core Nindie titles that helped occupy my time. Among my favorites was the very distinct high-score-chasing space shooter Graceful Explosion Machine which encouraged repeated play as I’d try to get top ranks and a few rungs higher on the leaderboards for every stage. Who knew the same core concepts of multiple attack styles, a sense of flair, and a scoring system that pushes you to keep changing things up would work so well in a beat-em-up? Apparently the folks at Vertex Pop did! Very similarly to GEM I love the flow of things, and how you need to continually improvise not only to keep out of harm’s way but also in order to chain more and more attacks into your combo. It can be almost meditative when you’re in the zone, dodging, dashing through bullets, throwing uppercuts, and even shooting. In terms of raw stages, much like GEM there aren’t a ton to get through, but the joy here is in revisiting and climbing the online leaderboards, and for that this game crushes it.


Fight ’N Rage - After many years where the classic beat-em-up wasn’t getting much representation indie developers have really begun to rejuvenate the genre. While there have been a variety of takes on things, adhering almost too much to the old formula to shaking things up significantly, Fight’N Rage shows a great deal of reverence for the classic feel of titles like Final Fight without copying it too much, and throws in some great combos and variety that helps keep the fighting feel a bit less stale. That’s already a pretty tempting package for brawler fans but then, best of all, it comes in at a very fair price, has multiple characters who each have their own feel, and features loads of unlocks to help you refine the aesthetics for a little more fun. A great beat-em-up well worth your time!


Sky Racket - This is one of those games where with the elevator pitch alone I was revved up and ready to go. A retro-styled mash up of shmup bullet dodging and breakout? Where do I sign up? Fortunately, though granted the experience isn’t necessarily a long one (and I’d say it’s a mistake not to have online leaderboards to encourage people to replay stages to compete on scores), Sky Racket’s execution justifies the excitement. Not only does it look like a long lost title from the 16-bit era, there’s just a whimsical quality to it that lines up with that time as well, making it feel like a bit of a lost classic. I’d say the experience is equally good solo or with a friend, though paired you’ll probably want to be sure your skills are at least comparable to keep some frustrations at bay. If you’ve been bemoaning there simply not being enough innovation in the market you owe it to yourself to partake of this great and unique indie gem.


Pig Eat Ball - When a game comes along that has classic arcade-style sensibilities and it is just plain weird it is pretty well sure to get my attention. On both fronts Pig Eat Ball delivers, with an oddball experience and a ton of levels that are reminiscent of classics like Pac-Man but with a weirdo take and a bit more strategy involved. You see, the issue is that as you consume more balls you’ll continue to get more rotund, which can then restrict you from getting around. The solution? Throw them back up, of course. This makes for some entertainment as well as quite a bit of strategy as you try to complete the level objectives as quickly as possible yet for the most part your available skills are limited. Where the fun really kicks into gear is with the game’s sheer variety of settings and variations of levels, you really never can know quite what to expect, and that’s what really put the experience over the top for me.


SNK 40th Anniversary Collection - If you're a big fan of classic arcade games you've probably heard of or even get nostalgic for a fair number of games featured in this collection. From the iconic shooters in the Ikari Warriors series to unique titles like Athena and Vanguard vintage arcade gaming is well-represented. On the classic console side the inclusion of Crystalis should excite as well. Wrap that all up with a chronology of press materials and facts about the company and its games over the years and it's a package retro lovers should appreciate.


Blaster Master Zero 2 - Determined not to let itself get in a rut and become too predictable, Zero 2 is a rewarding walk through nostalgia while not being content to limit itself to dated design and mechanics. While not all of the new planets and challenges you encounter may be to your liking, to the game’s credit they change things up with enough regularity that any disappointments aren’t likely to last long and you’ll likely feel better about what’s around the corner. If you’ve got a soft spot in your heart for the original, or have just been looking for a diverse and well-crafted retro-style challenge, it is a satisfying adventure.


Super Hydorah - While inspired by the classics like R-Type and Gradius, Super Hydorah has a great feel and style all its own. You're able to choose your path at specific branches, though there's nothing stopping you from backtracking to grab more enhancements. You'll then need to carefully consider your loadout for each stage since each has their own challenges and there's no single solution that best addresses them all. A great mixture of retro play and modern sensibilities.


198X - As a child of the 70s and 80s who spent an enormous amount of time in the arcades there’s no doubt 198X was made for me. I’m just getting my bias out of the way so you can take into account how it may color my generally positive perception of the game. In essence the game is a blend of the beginnings of the story (it is meant to be the first chapter in a bigger narrative) of Kid, a teenager approaching life’s crossroads and feeling the limits of the town they’re living in. With the discovery of a local arcade, and through the exploration of 5 different retro-styled games, that perspective begins to shift, providing confidence and vision of new possibilities. While perhaps it’s a bit frustrating how briefly you’ll be able to enjoy the title’s loving recreation of multiple classics and genres there are moments I had playing through them that helped me reconnect with the wonder of the experience of the arcade, not just as a collection of games to play but as a physical place that was somehow special. I’m absolutely looking forward to what is yet to come in future chapters and I would imagine anyone with a long-standing connection and affection for games will enjoy this celebration of arcade culture.


Dragon’s Lair Trilogy - Dirk the Daring and Dexter are back, and bringing their reference-quality classic arcade laserdisc gameplay to the Switch. While not everyone may be a fan of the somewhat stilted play that results from the way these games worked there’s no denying that the ability to virtually play a feature-quality cartoon was pretty cool. Both Dragon’s Lair and its sequel as well as the very different Space Ace are represented in all of their glory and even lacking the trademark pauses you used to experience as the next clip was loading.


Blazing Chrome - As a huge fan of the classic arcade run n’ gun shooters I hold Contra in very high regard, so it’s always a thrill when someone manages to put out a title that can give it a run for its money. While there have been some titles that have nailed the retro look of this iconic series most have come up a bit short in the feel department, never quite capturing the level of difficulty, variety, and hard core gunning action that made it legendary. Armed with a variety of weapons and crucial power-ups you’ll be hard pressed to get through to the end as you’ll need to overcome swarms of enemies, some tricky traversals, and tough bosses. However, if you’ve been thirsting for something that kicks you down and makes you keep coming back for more this title absolutely delivers.


Hyper Sentinel - With the heart of a game pulled from the 80s but production values and visual enhancements that help give it modern flair Hyper Sentinel is a load of fun. Inspired quite a bit by the classic shooter Uridium you'll be attacking a large ship and trying to take it down while fighting off it's defenses, working to rack up combos and maximize your score.


The Adventures of Elena Temple - Retro games can be really challenging to get "just right", somehow toeing the line between being true to vintage gameplay and being trapped by it. With platforming action that took me back to my Atari 5200 and Commodore 64 days Elena Temple managed to be a nostalgic rush but also, aside from its pixel graphics looks, managed to feel at home as a modern game as well. With a bite-sized length to match its budget price this is a game any retro fan should thoroughly enjoy.


Pang Adventures - Doing a remake or remaster for a classic game can be a tough task. Fail to respect the original sufficiently and the purists will begin squawking loudly. Fail to innovate and you’ll get hit by another camp. Being successful means finding a balance of the needs of both sides and Pang Adventures does this admirably. There’s no mistaking this is all about popping bubbles classic Pang style but whether solo or with a friend there’s enough new stuff here to keep retro gaming fans happy and challenged for a little bit.

This list will continue to grow and be pruned as time goes on, as well as numerous other lists that try to keep track of all of the best titles the Nintendo Switch has to offer in the Indie space!